The choice of a telecommunications company is a stark departure for the network. CBS Senior VP-Marketing and Promotion George Schweitzer, who pioneered what is now an annual event-linking with a major advertiser to promote a network's fall lineup-has previously favored retail partners, specifically Kmart Corp. or Sears, Roebuck and Co. In 1992, RJR Nabisco was CBS' major partner, but even that promotion included Kmart.
"I think George would have liked to hook up with a retailer again this year," said one insider, "but Kmart's in disarray and I don't think Sears, which was CBS' partner last year, wanted to repeat the same thing."
Mr. Schweitzer did not return phone calls; MCI would not comment.
NBC, as reported, has tapped Eastman Kodak Co.'s premium processing as a major partner this year (AA, May 20).
MCI reaches about 20 million residential and business customers, many of whom are in the age range of CBS' target demographic of 25-to-54-year-old adults.
"Actually, MCI skews a little younger," said one TV executive, "but for CBS that's not a bad thing as it tries to build its audience base."
The MCI partnership is not without risks. CBS is counting on the promotion to reach well beyond current MCI customers, insiders say.
Many of the specifics of the promotion have yet to be worked out, though clearly MCI could set up phone numbers to call to hear CBS' stars talk about their new shows.
It is likely that MCI agency Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, will create material for the promotion.
CBS and its promotional partner will have a good deal of star power to light their way, with the premieres of several shows starring well-known names.
"In a lot of ways, [Mr. Schweitzer's] job is a lot easier this year," said one executive familiar with CBS. "Many of the new shows are built around real TV stars, such as [Bill] Cosby, [Ted] Danson, Rhea Perlman and Scott Bakula, and the press will want to write about them, and that's free publicity."
Interestingly, CBS star Candice Bergen is the spokeswoman for MCI rival Sprint Corp. But Ms. Bergen has always been careful not to mix her endorsement activities with the title character she plays on "Murphy Brown."
Contributing: Kim Cleland.